Positive Approaches to Challenging Behavior

Creating the Hypothesis Statement

This module has now summarized the three major sources of data that are collected in an FBA. The information that is gathered from indirect assessment, direct observation, and functional analysis are used to develop a hypothesis about what is maintaining challenging behavior and to provide evidence that this hypothesis is correct. There are four major sections of a hypothesis statement:

  • Setting events
  • Antecedents or triggers
  • The behavior
  • Consequences

So far, this module has introduced antecedents, strategies for teaching new behaviors, and consequences. The element of the hypothesis not yet addressed is the setting event . Setting events can be physiological, social or environmental in nature and can occur as part of a person's past. Setting events can also be occurring the moments before challenging behavior occurs. Setting events are different than antecedents even though both of these concepts occur before challenging behavior. The difference between the two is that setting events temporarily change the reinforcing value of events, people, items and activities in a child or adults’ every day routines.

A table, each column’s title is one of four sections in a hypothesis statement, setting events, antecedents or triggers, behavior, and consequences, with examples below.
A scatterplot titled setting event occurrences. The scatterplot shows setting events and dates they occurred.

Raj is a 12-year old who is usually full of energy and enjoys going to school and really likes his teacher. However, Raj’s favorite teacher has recently let Raj’s mom know that on some days, Raj is reacting in an argumentative manner when asked to complete his assignment. This seems out of the ordinary given Raj’s past interactions and his teacher wanted to share her concerns. She went on to suggest that a functional behavioral assessment might be helpful. During interviews, Raj indicated that sometimes he has fights on the bus with other children and at other times he feels that his mother is prompting him to get going in the morning too often and that Raj says he feels irritated after these two possible setting events which may be making him more likely to be argumentative later at school. Raj’s mom felt that maybe Raj isn’t getting enough sleep. Together, Raj and his team wrote down these three possible setting events and collected data on how often he was having trouble in class. It turned out that the fights on the bus were most often occurring on the same days that Raj was coming into class feeling irritated and angry. Raj’s sleep pattern was stable each day but it did seem like Raj’s mom was prompting Raj frequently on the same days as the fights occurring on the bus. The team felt Raj really needs more sleep daily even though it may not be a setting event for argumentative behavior.

Raj’s team decided that he would create a self-management plan for getting ready in the morning so that his mother didn’t need to prompt him to get ready. Raj’s mom decreased verbal prompts in the morning since Raj was in charge of following his new morning schedule. Raj’s teacher shared a mindfulness routine with the entire class the next week since all of the student could benefit from learning ways to manage difficult emotions. Raj and his mom added this mindfulness to their own evening routine as well. In addition, the bus driver with support from Raj’s teacher started teaching a universal set of expectations for riding the bus and created a way for the students to celebrate ”fight free” days when everyone on the bus got along using donated gift cards from the local fast food restaurant. When Raj and his team met three months later, the frequency of challenges had decreased